Resident Evil 2 and why game demos are important

I was puzzled at the idea of wanting to be scared when I was younger, but I still knew that Resi 2 was something I had to play. I couldn’t ignore what many called an instant classic upon release if my dream of becoming one of those fancy games journalists, with their summer homes in Skegness and garages full of Fiat Puntos, was to materialise. I went into my local video shop, and brought Resident Evil 2 up to the counter, knowing that this game was going to change my life forever. It didn’t. Because it was too scary. And I was a child that shouldn’t have been playing it. Different times… etc.

Just so I’d be able to engage in conversation at the Games Press Under-12s AGM, I played a little bit of both Claire and Leon’s scenarios, but not nearly enough to justify the rental price to my cross parents, who were baffled at how my children’s toy could be ‘too scary’. I’ve since gained an appreciation of why the rush of horror is so appealing; the thrill of being under threat from the comfort of your own home is fun. All you have to do is flick on a light switch, change over to Strictly, and you’re safe from all the ghosts and zombies, while still getting your fix of horrible, yet somehow endearing, scripted dialogue.

VideoGamer’s had a look, and another look, and another look again, at the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake, and everything I’ve been told has been positive. Josh loves it, Mike has an unhealthy obsession with it, and I don’t particularly care one way or the other. I get it, obviously – I don’t have to have seen the entirety of Diego Maradona’s career in real-time to understand that he’s more than a trending topic on Twitter every few months. Since it was announced, it feels like everyone’s been banging on about how ‘the original is one of the best survival horror games ever,’ and ‘it solidified the series as one of the medium’s greatest,’ and ‘blah,’ ‘blah,’ and then another ‘blah’ after that. A demo went live last Friday, so in order to engage in conversation at the Games Press Under-35s AGM, I knew I had to give it another shot. 

I cautiously stepped through the police station I had zero reverence for, attempting to avoid encounters with the undead, looking for puzzle solutions where there were none. I frantically boarded up windows to keep zombies at bay, and panicked when I was too slow. I fumbled with the controller when I’d ran out of shotgun shells, and wailed when I headed for a dead-end with the starving horde laying in wait. It was fantastic. Without the Resident Evil 2 1-Shot demo, I wouldn’t know that for myself. It’s been 20 years: there are some far younger than I am with even less incentive to be excited about that game, and that’s why demos are so important.

I’d pore over the features of my monthly magazines, and live by the review scores within, but one of the main reasons I’d ask my mam to get me OPM every month was so that I could rinse the demo disc that came with every issue; I tailored a lot of my Christmas lists around them. Rollcage, Vib Ribbon, Tombi: all games I may have missed if it weren’t for those monthly delights. I also wouldn’t be the Metal Gear apologist I am today without the playable teaser that came with ISS Pro ‘98, or likely even know what Kula World is without Spyro the Dragon. 

There was a time when every Xbox Live Arcade game would give players a chance to try before they buy, but those days are long gone; at time of writing, there are only 59 demos available on the Xbox Marketplace. The PlayStation Store fares a bit better with 94, whilst the Switch’s eShop has a hefty 125 in comparison. There are a lot on Steam, to be fair, and you can find a gem or two if you wade through the reams of absolute shite. Sort of like the store itself. But still, the days of every big game providing you with a sweet slice are no more. ‘Either buy the whole cake or fuck off,’ the imaginary publisher in my head yells, like an agitated baker who’s unhappy with a customer’s insistence on sampling the red velvet before they open their wallet. And I can sort of see why.

Back in 2013, video game designer and analyst Jesse Schell spoke at the D.I.C.E Summit about how demos can cut game sales in half. Schell, along with his lovely graph of data, highlighted how many get their fill from bite-sized portions, and games with just a trailer perform better in the shops. As well as snappy hype videos, YouTubers allow potential purchasers to watch their favourite shouty Americans blitz a game in a couple of sittings. But there’s still clearly an appetite after the video’s watched; plenty of indie devs have reported upticks in sales after their game’s been covered by a prominent YouTuber. The modern demo. For your eyes things.

Demos for your hands, as well as your head lookers, are still effective, though: Capcom’s Beginning Hour trial for Resident Evil 7 is the most downloaded of all time, and the annual FIFA and PES exhibition fests always feel like events. Already, the Resi 2 1-Shot has been downloaded by over one million players, showing that there’s a desire for the playable teaser. Of course, there’ll be those who give it a whirl and decide it’s not for them, but I have to wonder if they were ever going to part with money for it in the first place, or if they just played it to confirm their already established opinion that it’s not for them.

In all likelihood, the frequency and volume of demos will never go back to what it once was. Although, the occasional one – or two in the case of Anthem over the next month – is nice. As this was for me: nice. A nice time running away from shambling, rotting, reanimated corpses, in a game I was contractually obliged to care about, but didn’t really care about. And now I do. So, job done. Nice.

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